Getting an Upgrade

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Getting an Upgrade

Scientists are drilling deep into the ice at the south pole to learn more about some of the most elusive particles in the universe. They’ve been operating a huge observatory there for more than a decade. And they’re about to wrap up a big upgrade.

IceCube is looking for evidence of neutrinos. Stars and other objects produce huge numbers of them, and send them streaming into space at almost the speed of light. In fact, billions of neutrinos pass through every square inch of your body every second. Yet they almost never interact with other matter.

The only time they do is when they smash head on into the nucleus of an atom. That produces a flash of blue light.

IceCube uses more than 5,000 detectors buried a mile or more deep in the ice to look for those flashes. The ice blocks other types of particles and radiation, so any flashes should come from neutrinos. Scientists can trace the direction and brightness of the flashes to track their origin, and to learn something about what produced the neutrinos. That’s provided details about supermassive black holes and other sources.

The upgrade is adding about 750 detectors, which are more sensitive than the older ones. That should improve the sensitivity of IceCube by 25 percent or more.

Work is supposed to wrap up in the next few weeks — helping scientists catch a few more ghostly neutrinos.

We’ll talk about another big telescope upgrade tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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